Owning a dog is a privilege, not a right and it comes with a great deal of responsibility. If you are considering adding a dog to your life, you need to think seriously about the commitment that dog ownership entails. If you already have a dog, you need to continue to consider if you are fulfilling your obligations as a dog owner.
Being a responsible dog owner isn’t just about feeding it properly or walking it or taking it to a vet if it needs it. It’s also about fulfilling your obligations to the other people in your area, that means keeping your pet under control at all times. Making sure it doesn’t disturb other people, either by fouling or being noisy. Some people simply don’t like dogs, its not their fault, but they should be disturbed by your choice to keep one. Your pet must wear a collar and ID tag, at all times, and should be microchipped – with your contact details kept up to date – and is vaccinated annually.
The essentials are simple. To feel secure pets need a daily routine and to be loved.
Possibly the most important aspect of owning a dog is making a responsible decision about whether you should own one at all. Dog ownership is a 10 to 20 year commitment, and what type of dog you chose is vital to a successful relationship. Do not get seduced by looks, instead pick you breed or individual on their needs, not yours. Some breeds take a great deal more looking after than others in terms of exercise and grooming, for example there is an alarming rise in the number of husky type dogs entering rescue at the moment. These are stunning dogs, but their exercise requirements are often beyond the ability of most people. Small does not always equal less exercise, some small breeds, such as terriers are bred to be almost constantly active, whilst some giant breeds need far less exercise than most people would expect. Unfortunately size does increase expense, vet bills will be significantly higher for large dogs, as well as insurance, kennel fees and remember, unfortunately big dogs make big ‘deposits’ which you will have to clear up.
The idea may be simple, but if you are particularly house proud, or don’t enjoy taking long daily walks, no matter the weather, before getting a dog, do you really think you’ll change after the pup comes home?
Making time for your dog
Bonding is not something you can do once and assume it’s finished. The bond with your dog is built during the first few weeks to months of ownership, but maintaining the bond is a lifelong process. Remember that while you are at work, out with friends, or running errands, your dog is usually just waiting for you to come home. You are responsible for every aspect of his existence, for the whole of his life, from cute puppy, energetic teenager, solid middle age and slow, occasionally crotchety old age.
Dogs need to be exercised regularly no matter the weather, usually twice a day, Although this can vary with your dog’s breed and age. You should carry poo bags with you to clean up after your dog, if you can’t cope with poop scooping, don’t have a dog! It’s a good idea to establish who in your household will be responsible for walking and feeding, before you get your pet. If you have several people in your household a rota may work, but be aware that dogs can live a long time, and sometimes an enthusiastic young dog walker will also grow up and leave home, leaving parents to carry on with daily care.
It is unfair to leave most dogs, especially young dogs along all day long. They can’t read, or watch TV to keep themselves entertained. Young dogs especially will get bored, and may decide its entertaining to chew things in your home. If your pet does this, it isn’t his fault; it’s yours for leaving him alone. If you can’t be with him yourself, think about employing a responsible dog walker to check on him during the day, and provide him with some stimulation, other than dismantling your sofa!
It’s vital that you have a secure method of keeping your dog on your property. Check your fences for spots vulnerable to chewing or digging on a regular basis. If your garden is not fenced, consider a large dog run. Remember that you are responsible for any damage your dog does, so keep your pet, and your neighbours happy and safe by making sure he can’t roam.
Both tinned and dried pet food can provide a balanced, nutritious diet. Some people prefer to feed their dog a raw diet, although this method takes a good deal of commitment to make sure your pet gets all the nutrition it needs. Remember to always provide fresh water, bowls should be washed daily. Some people chose to feed their dog, once a day, or several times a day, this is a personal choice but remember that young dogs do need their food split into several meals. Large or giant breeds can also suffer from gastric torsion, so splitting their food into two or more portions is useful, as can raising the food dish.
Remember that as much as you love your dog, he is not a small human, and should not be fed human food, for example chocolate is a much loved treat for humans, but it can be poisonous to dogs, and is fatal in large quantities.
Your pet’s bed should be in a quiet, draught-free place out of direct sunlight. Many people find using a crate is a big advantage when house training a puppy, and many dogs feel happy and secure in their own den. It also makes it easier to confine your pet when you don’t want him enthusiastically greeting visitors for example. Vacuuming or laundering the bedding will help keep smells and fleas at bay. Think very carefully before letting your dog sleep on your bed. If you start this when he’s a puppy to provide reassurance in the first days/weeks remember he will grow, and will not understand when you decide he can’t be there anymore.
Both you and your dog will be happier if he is socialised with people and other animals, and is easy to control. Dog training classes allow your dog to meet others in a controlled environment, and enable you to learn correct handling techniques. This will strengthen the bond between you.
Dogs are pack animals, and are genetically programmed to behave as part of a group. In order for a pack to be successful there needs to be a strong leader. A dog doesn’t care, who the leader is, as long as it feels secure that that individual is in charge. Therefore you need to make sure that your pet thinks you are fit to be in charge, otherwise he will try to take that position, to protect his pack. Dominant behaviour, for example growling or snapping at other people in the home is not funny, no matter what size the dog. It isn’t cute if a German Shepard does it, and it isn’t entertaining if a Yorkshire terrier does it. Controlling access to food, human sleeping areas, and socialisation/obedience training can help with this process. Dogs secure with their position in their pack are happier pets.
Socialising from an early age will help prevent behavioural problems. Regular walks provide your dog with a change of scene and the chance to meet other dogs. Try to introduce your dog to as many different situations as you can while he is young, for example high streets, train stations, busy traffic, all whilst on a lead of course. Introducing your dog to other animal species at a young age is also a good idea, for example livestock and other pet animals. Make the introductions calm and praise your pet for behaving well, rather than barking or attempting to chase other animals. This behaviour could save both his life and that of other people’s pets or property in the future. Farmers have the right to shoot dogs chasing their livestock in the UK, and think about the owners of the cat your dog attacked.
Health and pet insurance
A responsible dog owner doesn’t wait until their pet becomes ill before registering with a vet. Animals need annual vaccinations, and a yearly trip to the vet to get boosters done also offers a good opportunity for a complete health check. Your vet may pick up on changes in your dog you are not aware of on a day to day basis, for example changes in weight.
Pet insurance is an important consideration. It will guard against unexpected veterinary fees and third party liability in case your dog causes a car accident or damages someone’s property.There are many different types of pet insurance, and you should consider what cover you want, and can afford. Policies vary from emergency accident cover, to one that pay out up to a certain amount each year, or per condition, to ones which will cover your pet for life, no matter what the problem.
Flea and worm treatments should be repeated regularly to ensure parasites are controlled and the animal’s health is maintained. Ask your vet for advice as to the most appropriate product. Over the counter preparations are not normally as effective as ones from your vet.
Neutering not only prevents unwanted litters but can also prevent tumours and other health problems. In male dogs it can also help curb straying or aggression. The cost of neutering varies according to the size and sex of your dog. Neutering a male jack Russell will obviously cost significantly less than a Rottweiler bitch. Some charities can help with the cost of neutering, and it may help to contact more than one vet surgery for a price comparison.
Identification and loss prevention
Most owners assume their pet will never go missing. Identification is important for dogs and it is a legal requirement that they wear a collar and identity disc. However tags can get lost and microchipping is a widely recognised method of permanent identification. Your vet, or trained pet microchippers can provide this service. It is most important to remember to update your details with your microchip provider if you move house or change telephone numbers.
Keep your dog on a lead unless you are certain it is safe to let him off, never let a dog off a lead if you are unsure about his recall abilities, or you are not sure what other people or animals are using the area. Remember your dog may be well-behaved, other dogs may not be. Extending leads can be a useful way to let your dog have some freedom, whilst still keeping him under control.
When planning a trip be sure to make proper arrangements for your pets. You should only entrust your animal a friend/neighbour if you are confident they will take care of them properly. A much better idea is to leave their care to a professional, either a pet sitter or a boarding kennels. A reputable dog sitter or kennels will ask you lots of questions about your pet to make sure he is happy while you are away. For example they will want to know about his daily routine, likes and dislikes, feeding preferences etc. If you intend your dog to stay at the carer’s premises, make sure to visit the facilities beforehand to make sure they are suitable. Ask lots of questions yourself, such as how many walks the dog will get, and where he will sleep, and what insurance the carer has in case of a problem. Word of mouth is usually the best way to find a suitable carer, but remember you may need to book up well in advance for the best pet sitter/kennel.
Make sure you leave sufficient contact numbers for yourself and your vet in case of emergencies. Put a new identity disc on your pet’s collar with the contact details of his temporary carer and, if your pet is microchipped, let the company who manages the database know the temporary carer’s contact details.